Arizona’s Permanent Early Voter List (PEVL) is no longer permanent, after Gov. Doug Ducey signed one of Arizona’s most important pieces of election integrity legislation in years on Tuesday.
The Arizona Senate approved SB1485 earlier in the day to ensure Arizona voters receive a mail-in ballot only if they signed-up to and now wish to continue automatically receiving a ballot before each election. It provides for a voter’s removal from the newly named Early Voting List (EVL) if a voter did not cast a ballot in at least one of four consecutive elections and did not respond to messages from their county recorder to remain on the list.
“This bill is a modest, but critical step toward restoring confidence in our election system,” sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita stated in a press release.
Proponents of SB1485 touted its cost-savings impact for counties from only printing and paying postage for early ballots a voter expects to use. But the main impact, they said, would be ensuring that tens of thousands of early ballots are not mailed out to voters who no longer utilize the option.
Opponents of the bill deflected from the election integrity benefit and tried to characterize the bill as targeting minority populations to make it harder to vote.
However, being dropped from what is now EVL has no impact on a voter’s right to vote and all voters remain registered to vote. That was a message the governor focused on in his comments while signing SB1485 a short time after its passage in the Senate on a 16 to 14 vote.
“Let’s be clear — despite all the deceptive and heated rhetoric being used by some partisan activists to lobby against this reform, not a single Arizona voter will lose their right to vote as a result of this new law,” Ducey stated in a video his office released to announce that SB1485 had been signed.
Ugenti-Rita’s bill was amended several weeks ago to win the support of more Republican lawmakers in the House. The amendment softened the bill, according to experts, so that a voter would have to miss all elections within a two-year period -including any city or other minor elections- to be dropped from the EVL.
Ducey used the bill’s signing to push back on national companies inserting themselves into Arizona’s election laws.
“These big businesses have seemed to embrace a static view of elections,” he said. “Freeze the systems the way they are and view any change suspiciously. It’s wrong. Dead wrong.”
As the State Senate’s audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 General Election results and procedures continues, the majority of House Republicans signed a letter last week proclaiming their support of Senate President Karen Fann’s efforts.
“Each of us remains steadfast and focused on working to safeguard against potential ballot tampering, voter fraud and other voting irregularities,” the April 29 letter states. “We firmly believe our elections must be lawfully conducted under the Constitution, as well as with federal and state election law.”
The signees include Reps. Brenda Barton, Leo Biasucci, Walt Blackman, Shawna Bolick, Judy Burges, Frank Carroll, Joseph Chaplik, David Cook, Timothy Dunn, John Filmore, Mark Finchem, Travis Grantham, Jake Hoffman, Steve Kaiser, John Kavanagh, Quang Nguyen, Joanne Osborne, Jacqueline Parker, Beverly Pingerelli, Jeff Weninger, and Justin Wilmeth.
According to the letter, the representatives are “fully committed to sorting through the verified evidence” once the Senate Audit is done and the auditors’ reports are available. Then they will work “to remedy verified irregularities” with the intent to increase voter trust.
In the meantime, the signers told Fann it “is paramount” to pass other pending election integrity legislation such as SB1485, which would require all 15 counties to remove voters from the early ballot mailing list if those voters fail to utilize early voting for two full election cycles. About 207,000 voters could drop off the early ballot list, a process which does not impact a voter’s registration status.
Cleaning up the list will save counties money on printing and postage, according to SB1485 supporters, while also reducing opportunities for election misconduct by ensuring early ballots are only being sent to voters who intend to use them.
SB1485 has already cleared the House but is held up in the Senate due to a revolt in the Republican caucus by Sen. Kelly Townsend, who alleges bill sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita was responsible for “killing” more than a dozen of Townsend’s election-related bills.
The representatives’ April 29 letter was issued the same day the House voted 31 to 29 along party lines to approve SB1003, another bill sponsored by Ugenti-Rita, which will ensure counties follow the same process -and same deadline of 7 p.m. on election day- for curing early ballots received without the statutorily required signature on the voter affidavit.
Most counties reported a very small number of unsigned early ballot affidavits in the 2020 General Election, but the bill is one of several that Republicans say are necessary to promote consistency and voter confidence in election procedures used statewide.
In a shocking twist to this year’s legislative session, a much debated election integrity bill that would cull the early voter list unexpectedly went onto life support Thursday when Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend voted against the bill.
Townsend initially cast the lone no vote of the Senate’s Republican caucus on SB1485, which would have died on a 15 to 15 vote. Her vote forced SB1485 sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita to vote against her own bill to preserve hopes of a future revote.
The bill which has the potential to remove about 207,000 voters from the permanent early voter list (PEVL) statewide for repeated non-use of the early ballots has been one of this session’s most talked about bills.
Ugenti-Rita and some other Republican legislators took part Monday in a press conference hosted by Heritage Action For America to push back on opponents who contend any changes to PEVL as acts of voter suppression. The bill then advanced out of the House on Wednesday and was assumed to be a sure bet when the Senate met Thursday for a final reading.
SB1485 sponsor Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and some other Republican legislators took part Monday in a press conference hosted by Heritage Action For America to push back on opponents who contend any changes to PEVL as acts of voter suppression. The bill then advanced out of the House on Wednesday and was assumed to be a sure bet when the Senate met Thursday for a final reading.
Garrett Bess, Heritage Action’s vice president of government relations and communications, addressed the need to “safeguard against potential fraud, and save taxpayer dollars” by getting SB1485 to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk. He said Townsend “shortsightedly” voted against the bill.
“Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, the bill’s sponsor, and other legislators have been working tirelessly to pass a number of bills that would strengthen the integrity of Arizona’s elections and improve voter trust in the system,” Bess stated. “No conservative should oppose these bills.”
SB1485 was the second version of a PEVL cleanup bill sponsored by Ugenti-Rita, the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Government. For her part, Townsend introduced 18 election bills which went nowhere due to Ugenti-Rita “killing all my bills,” Townsend said.
Ugenti-Rita, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for Arizona Secretary of State, suggested Townsend killed SB1485 “in a show of spite and in a rage,” adding that it was “unfortunate to be on the receiving end of someone’s temper tantrum.”
After the Senate adjourned until Monday, Townsend took to Facebook and Twitter to address voting against SB1485 even though she supports the bill. She also took a more personal swipe at Ugenti-Rita,.
“Michelle Ugenti-Rita feels that this move is a temper tantrum because she killed all my election reform bills in her committee,” Townsend said. “She went so far as to say I need to ‘get over my jealousy.’ I am anything but jealous of Michelle Ugenti-Rita. She has been nothing but scandal ridden from the time I have known her.”
Townsend contends it was hard to watch Ugenti-Rita talk about election integrity during the recent press conference. “Nevertheless that is not why I voted no and they knew it. I explained my vote on the floor.”
Townsend insists she advised Republican caucus leadership of her plan to not vote for any election bills until the current Senate audit of Maricopa County’s 2020 General Election process is complete.
“I am supportive of the bill, but I informed leadership and the caucus that I was a no on election related bills because we are in the middle of an audit and there is talk of the Senate voting Sine Die in (two) weeks,” she wrote.
Sine Die is the process by which the legislature is formally adjourned for the session and consideration of any unfinished business is ended.
“Once we vote Sine Die and go home, we will not be able to fix any issues prior to the next primary election. I was serious when I said I would not vote on any election bills until after the audit. I was not taken seriously,” Townsend said.
Ugenti-Rita made a floor motion to reconsider SB1485’s final reading at to be determined date. Her motion carried, but Townsend doubled down late Thursday on waiting until the Senate’s audit is complete.
“Mark my words, and my actions, I will not bend,” she said. “This bill can be brought back for reconsideration and I will vote yes, however only after the results of the audit and all issues resolved with it.”
Earlier this session Townsend lectured her colleagues on the need to cast votes based on the merits of a bill instead of as retaliation for any perceived slights. It left many senators puzzled by her derisive vote and public comments.
“It makes zero sense and is only about ego…” Sen. TJ Shope tweeted.
On Tuesday, the Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives attempted to prevent a vote on an election integrity bill, and then when that failed, Rep. Athena Salman called for a boycott of the state if the bill passed.
Earlier in the day, Democrat lawmakers refused to show up to work in order to prevent a quorum as part of their effort to block a vote on SB1485.
Later, in a vote along party lines, Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s bill passed and is now headed back to the Senate.
SB1485 would remove people from the Early Voting List (EV), who don’t return their mail ballot for two consecutive election cycles from the permanent list, which allows voters to automatically receive a ballot before each election.
Not everyone shared Salman’s view. Sen. TJ Shope, a moderate Republican, tweeted his support for the bill:
I look forward to supporting SB1485 in the Senate. It’s NOT unreasonable to send a notice to a PEVL voter after NOT voting in FOUR consecutive elections and confirming their intent to remain on PEVL. The hyperbole surrounding this bill is disgusting & offensive to POC like myself https://t.co/tLTfGLYtyM
Sen. Salman and the Arizona House Democrats continue to make discredited statements about SB1485, including allegations that the bill would “purge” the early voting list and “infringe” on voting rights.
The reason the bill heads back to the Senate is that it was amended to win the support of more Republican lawmakers in the House.
The amendment softened the bill, according to experts.
Before the amendments, a person could be removed from EVL after not using an early ballot in two consecutive primaries and general elections. Under the amendments, a person would have to miss all elections within a two-year period including city or other minor elections, to be dropped from the EVL.
In all cases, voters remain registered to vote. They are simply dropped from the list of mail-in ballot recipients.